Cat's Cradle

by

Sue Kite

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

 

It didn’t take long to reach the same clearing where he had landed the first time, two weeks ago and Buck waited for the crewmen to carry his still body from the craft.  Then he and Wilma walked down the shuttle’s ramp, side by side.   As they strode through the forest, Wilma walked ahead of the small group, while Buck brought up the rear.  Buck tuned his borrowed body to any extraneous noises, not wanting a repeat of the attack that had left this brixtel body so devastated.

The path had not changed, the second clearing, when they reached it, seemed a peaceful antithesis to what it had been a couple of weeks ago.  When they reached a rocky wall, though, Buck felt a dread that caused him to halt for a moment.   There were flashes of intense pain, bright blinding light and the scent of intense fear. 

As the two crewmen passed through an opening in the rock face, Hawk emerged.   “Buck,” he said.  “All is in readiness.”

Buck could only nod, even though he now wanted to demand that Dr. Goodfellow find another way.  He couldn’t force himself to move.

“Dr. Goodfellow and Twiki assure me that this is the best chance to reverse the transmutation,” he added, as though able to read Buck’s mind.

Buck nodded again, realizing the truth of what Hawk had said.  Twiki? he wondered.  Buck knew the ambuquad was clever, but partnered with Dr. Goodfellow?  Crichton was probably having six different litters of kittens.  That little mental image broke the sudden and debilitating hold on him.  He slowly trotted forward into a darkness that was stygian, broken only by a soft yellow glow further inside the cave.    The narrow corridor finally opened into a large cavernous chamber.  The glow was from a small lantern on the far side of him.  Illuminated in its glow were Twiki, Wilma, Dr. Devlin and Dr. Goodfellow, bent over something he couldn’t see.  The two med techs stood to one side of the cave. 

It was himself, Buck realized as he approached the pair.  Behind him, he heard Hawk, his tread quiet as usual, but still very audible to the brixtel’s ears.   Twiki turned toward him with a friendly beep and then the two doctors did the same.  “Buck, my dear fellow,” the older man began.  “We are going to recreate the very same events that caused the transmutation.  We haven’t been able to replicate it in the lab, but I don’t feel we can wait any longer.”

Buck nodded in agreement, feeling the weakness of this body and having seen the deterioration of his own body, but couldn’t tell if they saw his response or not.  That would be one thing he would be eternally grateful to get back—the gift of speech.

“Twiki will be the conduit for your body, since you can’t hold a pistol.  He told me he had done the same thing for you before.”  Goodfellow paused.  “Something about a Roshan?”

Again Buck nodded.  He remembered it well.  Somehow, he had managed to fit the description of the so-called five-hundred-year-old ‘savior’ and had been snookered into fighting a planetary bully by the name of Traybor.  The warlord had the ability of conducting and throwing electricity as a weapon.  Twiki had served as a combination lightning rod/conduit, throwing the Traybor’s electric impulses back at him when they hit Buck.

“Now exactly where was the crystal that you remember flashing bright red when you fired at the brixtel?” Dr. Goodfellow asked.

Buck limped to the place where a baseball-sized crystal had been sitting, its malevolent red light seeming to glare as balefully in the soft light of Wilma’s flashlight as the brixtel’s eyes had in the light of his own flashlight that first time.  He pointed with a claw.  Dr. Goodfellow nodded as though he had already figured it out. 

“And you were standing here?” Hawk asked, pointing to where Buck’s body now sat unconscious in a high portable chair.  When Buck nodded, Hawk placed Twiki on top of a platform that would have him holding the laser pistol about as high as Buck normally held it.  They were leaving nothing to chance.

Suddenly Wilma was in front of him, down on her knees, her eyes hopeful and fearful at the same time.  “Whatever happens, Buck Rogers, whatever happens, I love you,” she whispered.  “You know that.”

He nodded, wishing again that he could respond in a more appropriate way.  He wanted to take her in his arms, hold her close, feel her warmth and reassure her in ways he had done in the past.  Without warning, Wilma reached out and hugged him tight to her, unmindful of the strange feel of the brixtel hide.  Her warmth was reassuring to him and he laid his chin on her back.  It was only Twiki’s beep that pulled them apart. 

Twiki held the pistol in one claw/hand and laid his other extremity on Buck’s body’s shoulder.  The head lolled forward and Buck had to repress a shudder.  Somehow he felt that this would be their only chance. 

Twiki beeped and said, “Let’s get this show on the road.”

“Everything is as it should be, Buck?” Dr. Devlin asked.

Buck padded over to the spot where the brixtel had been waiting and then nodded. 

“Very well, then,” Dr. Goodfellow said.  “We will have to leave.  It’s up to you, Twiki.”

Twiki beeped again.  He almost sounded jovial.  “You got it, Doctor.”

Wilma gazed at him and he cocked his head in what he hoped was reassurance.  She appeared ready to come back over and embrace him, but Buck suddenly wanted to get this over with; whatever ultimately happened.  He turned and faced the robot and himself with increasing anxiety.  The red crystal winked balefully next to him as though aware of what was going on.  He sincerely hoped not.  In order to continue the semblance of exactness, Buck crouched as though to spring on the human across from him and growled. 

Twiki aimed the laser pistol and held it for what seemed an eternal moment, then he fired.  Several things seemed to happen at once.  There was searing heat and the brain numbing cold, blinding light that penetrated to his very molecules.  The crystal’s light was brighter than the laser and he, Twiki and his body were engulfed in its red light.  Buck heard two ear-piercing shrieks, one high, one low and then there was pain—horrible and debilitating pain that seemed determined to wrench his guts out of his body.  Then there was swirling dizziness that would have made him lose his breakfast had he eaten any. 

Suddenly there was absolute silence.  Blissful, beautiful silence that was soon accompanied by a total blackness, then there was nothing.  

 

                       ===================================

 

Hawk stood just outside the entrance of the cavity, his fingers drumming nervously on the handle of his laser.  Wilma was right beside him.  He hadn’t been able to tell if the horrible shriek had been from one voice or two, but it had caused the feathers to stand up on the back of his neck and chills to race up and down his spine. 

The bright burst of light died away at about the same time as the echo of sound.  He and Wilma turned, almost as one and looked at Dr. Goodfellow and the rest of the medical staff.  The security personnel who had accompanied them gazed alternately at them and around the clearing, their eyes round with anxiety.

“I am going in, Dr. Goodfellow,” Hawk said in the unnatural silence. 

“Yes, yes, we should.”

“No, just Hawk and I,” Wilma said in a voice that brooked no argument.  “We’ll let you know if it’s all right for you to follow us.”

Goodfellow sighed.  “Very well.”

Quickly, with pistols ready, they entered the cave.  It was totally dark and Hawk, who had gone ahead, turned on a small flashlight.  The shadows danced on the rugged walls, which seemed to have changed somewhat.  A slight trembling in the ground below their feet startled him.  Earthquake? he wondered and the thought caused him to quicken his pace. 

Wilma must have had the same thoughts.  “We’d better hurry.  Just in case all this has made it unstable in here,” she said softly.  “I’ll check Buck.  You check the brixtel.”

Hawk nodded, hoping that her choice of words precluded success.  He found the creature that had been housing his friend’s soul and kneeled, feeling for life.  He could find no heartbeat.  Belatedly, Hawk pulled out the small medical sensor and turned it on.  It confirmed his first conclusion—there was no life.  His fingers lingered on the scarred shoulder and he murmured a few of his people’s words of release.  The body had served Buck well.  He could only hope, at this point, that Buck was not still residing in the lifeless husk. 

“He’s still alive!” Wilma called out.  As if her voice was a trigger, the ground shuddered again and a few rocks tumbled from the walls.  

Quickly Hawk reached her side.  “I do not think we have time to waste calling the medical team or Dr. Goodfellow in here.”  She nodded.   “His condition?”

Wilma was using her medical recorder.  “Heart rate, breathing seem to be very low, but within the realm of acceptability,” she responded.  She glanced over at the brixtel.  “And him?”

“The brixtel is dead.”

Wilma drew in a ragged breath and then sighed.  “Then we had better hope this worked.”

“Yes.”  Hawk checked out Twiki, who lay in a heap next to Buck.  Parts of his torso and all of his head appeared charred.  There appeared to be no life in the ambuquad.  The ground shuddered again, this time harder.  Rocks tumbled down from the walls.  “I will take Buck,” Hawk said, dodging a small rock that fell from the ceiling.  “You get Twiki.”

“Twiki?” she asked as though being reminded of something that she should have thought of herself. 

“Yes.  Although he appears heavily damaged, perhaps beyond repair, I know Buck, as well as Dr. Goodfellow, would want to try saving him.”

“Of course,” Wilma said softly as she continued gazing at Buck. 

“I am sure the transmutation was successful,” Hawk reassured her, his voice soothing.  He gathered Buck as carefully as he could, but it was awkward.  Buck was bigger than he was, even in his debilitated condition, but he finally managed and made it out of the cave with his unconscious friend.  

Wilma followed with Twiki, who was heavier than he looked.  Dr. Goodfellow and the medical team were right outside and the latter leaped to help Hawk.  The birdman was grateful.  The ground shuddered again and he almost dropped Buck as he stumbled.  Two of the med techs took the unconscious man from his arms and further into the clearing.  The security men helped Wilma with Twiki. 

“I need to go in and get that crystal,” Dr. Goodfellow said as he alternately gazed at Buck and the entrance of the cave. 

“No, Doctor,” Hawk said commandingly, his voice brooking no argument.  “It is dangerous and unstable.”

“But….”

“I have to agree, Dr. Goodfellow,” Wilma said.  “Your safety is paramount to Buck’s recovery.”  Then she smiled.  It was an anxious smile, but her eyes held affection for the old man.  “You are too valuable to all of us to risk in an unstable cave.  An excavation and recovery crew can return later.”

Dr. Goodfellow said nothing for a brief moment, then he walked toward the shuttle where the med techs had already taken Buck.  “You’re right, I need to see to Buck and Twiki.”  Then he paused again and turned back toward Wilma and Hawk, who had followed him.  “The brixtel?”

“It is dead, Doctor,” Hawk said. 

“Yes….”  Dr. Goodfellow’s voice trailed off.  He walked up the shuttle ramp and began asking the medical staff questions.  Then he looked back at Wilma.  “I think we need to get back to the Searcher immediately,” he declared.  Hawk left for his fighter. 

Just as the shuttled lifted off, the ground rumbled and shook even harder.  Trees swayed and there was a booming from within the cave, followed by a billowing of dust from the entrance.   Hawk staggered the last few steps to his fighter and then scrambled aboard, quickly powering up his engines.  Soon, he, too, was airborne. 

“Hawk, are you all right?” Wilma asked over the comm.  “The instruments picked up another earthquake.”

“Yes,” he answered.  “I had no problems.”

“Let’s go home,” Wilma said wearily. 

Hawk could only agree.

 

 

Chapter 8
Cat's Cradle 1
Buck Rogers Contents
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